cover image Parenting for Primates

Parenting for Primates

Harriet J. Smith, . . Harvard Univ., $29.95 (436pp) ISBN 978-0-674-01938-6

Parents looking for something new and useful among the plethora of books on child-rearing could do a lot worse than this fascinating look at the close link between human and ape families by Smith, a primatologist and clinical psychologist. In a rigorously scientific yet highly readable style, Smith describes normal and abnormal parenting behaviors in human and nonhuman primates, and "how a psychologist or evolutionary biologist might understand these behaviors." She uses case studies of primates from around the world—including cotton-top tamarin monkeys, Philippine tarsiers and Chinese white-cheeked gibbons—as well as from "hundreds of patients" in her counseling practice to show that there are basic primate patterns in the areas of mothering, fathering, weaning, discipline, dealing with adolescence and confronting the "empty nest" syndrome. These patterns include the general "primate recipe for mothering" ("constant body contact, breastfeeding, and consistent, rapid, responsiveness"); weaning babies from sleeping with parents (the "last major hurdle" on a very young primate's way to semi-independence); and the implications of the fact that "the human parent's capacity for neglect and abuse" of his or her offspring surpasses that of any other primate. After all the evidence is in, Smith argues for a sensible view of human parenting that could let many parents breathe easier. 22 b&w photos, 1 illus. (Feb.)